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Max Boot

Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2011


I have not been one of those castigating President Obama for decreasing American power—either deliberately or inadvertently. His muscular policy in Afghanistan, for example, belies this charge. But there is no question that his weak, vacillating response to the slaughter now unfolding in Libya will reduce American power and prestige in ways that will do us incalculable long-term harm.

On March 3, President Obama said that “Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It’s the right thing to do.”

When the president of the United States publicly proclaims that the head of another state needs to “step down,” his words carry considerable weight—or at least they should. Yet what has Mr. Obama done to back up his rhetoric? Not much beyond saying that “no option” is “off the table” and that he is actively “consulting” with American allies about how to act. At the rate those consultations are going, Gadhafi will have snuffed out the rebellion by the time that Mr. Obama decides on a course of action.…

Some policy makers in Washington may be fine with this outcome, because in 2003 Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction and his support for terrorism. But make no mistake: A resurgent Gadhafi would be a catastrophe on many levels.

Most obvious is the human cost of this dictator continuing his 41-year reign: His throne rests on an ever-growing pile of corpses. But there is also the strategic cost. Given the way the U.S. and our allies have turned against Gadhafi, at least rhetorically, he could easily decide to seek revenge by returning to his old tricks. Considering that Gadhafi was responsible for the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, among many other acts of terror, that is no idle threat.

Moreover, if he is able to keep power by force, it will encourage other Middle Eastern despots to emulate his example. Already the Saudis have sent an armored column to quell protests in Bahrain. Expect more of the same if Gadhafi clings to power. The Arab Spring could easily turn into a very dark winter that will arrest and reverse the momentum of recent pro-democracy demonstrations. That means consigning the entire region to a dysfunctional status quo ante in which the long-term winners will be al Qaeda and their ilk.

It’s not too late to prevent this dire outcome. All that would be required is for Mr. Obama to show as much political courage as France and the Arab League. Neither is known for its principled support of freedom, but both have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down, has reacted as if this would be a military operation on the order of D-Day. In reality, it would not be hard to ground Gadhafi’s decrepit air force.…

As the enforcement of no-fly zones over Bosnia and Iraq should have proved, the risks of such an operation are minimal—especially if we first neutralize Gadhafi’s air defenses. By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi’s supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi’s installations and troops.…

Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, today has a major thoroughfare named Bill Clinton Boulevard crowned with a 10-foot statue of their savior [who bombed the Serbs]. It is not far-fetched to imagine a Barack Obama Boulevard in Tripoli if the president finally finds the courage to act. If he does not, you can bet that his name and that of the country he leads will be reviled by democrats across the region—not only in Libya.

(Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.)


George F. Will
National Post, March 10, 2011


In September 1941, Japan’s leaders had a question for Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: Could he cripple the U.S. fleet in Hawaii? Yes, he said. Then he had a question for the leaders: But then what?

Following an attack, he said, “I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence” after that. Yamamoto knew America: He had attended Harvard and been naval attaché in Japan’s embassy in Washington. He knew Japan would be at war with an enraged industrial giant. The tide-turning defeat of Japan’s navy at the Battle of Midway occurred June 7, 1942—exactly six months after Pearl Harbor.

Today, some Washington voices are calling for U.S. force to be applied, somehow, on behalf of the people trying to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Some interventionists are Republicans, whose skepticism about government’s abilities to achieve intended effects ends at the water’s edge. All interventionists should answer some questions:

—The world would be better without Gaddafi. But is that a vital U.S. national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.

—How much of Gaddafi’s violence is coming from the air? Even if his aircraft are swept from his skies, would that be decisive?

—What lesson should be learned from the fact that Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War—the massacre by Serbs of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica—occurred beneath a no-fly zone?

—U.S. forces might ground Gaddafi’s fixed-wing aircraft by destroying runways at his 13 air bases, but to keep helicopter gunships grounded would require continuing air patrols, which would require the destruction of Libya’s radar and” anti-aircraft installations. If collateral damage from such destruction included civilian deaths—remember those nine Afghan boys recently killed by mistake when they were gathering firewood—are we prepared for the televised pictures?

—The Economist reports Gaddafi has “a huge arsenal of Russian surface-to-air missiles” and that some experts think Libya has SAMs that could threaten U.S. or allies’ aircraft. If a pilot is downed and captured, are we ready for the hostage drama?

—If we decide to give war supplies to the anti-Gaddafi fighters, how do we get them there?

—Presumably, we would co-ordinate aid with the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Who are they?

—Libya is a tribal society. What concerning our Iraq and Afghanistan experiences justifies confidence that we understand Libyan dynamics?

—Because of what seems to have been the controlling goal of avoiding U.S. and NATO casualties in Kosovo, the humanitarian intervention—79 days of bombing—against Serbian forces and installations was conducted from 15,000 feet. This marked the intervention as a project worth killing for but not worth dying for. Would intervention in Libya be similar? Are such interventions morally dubious?

—Could intervention avoid “mission creep”? If grounding Gaddafi’s aircraft is a humanitarian imperative, why isn’t protecting his enemies from ground attacks?

—In Tunisia and then in Egypt, regimes were toppled by protests. Libya is convulsed not by protests but by war. Not a war of aggression, not a war with armies violating national borders and thereby implicating the basic tenets of agreed-upon elements of international law, but a civil war. How often has intervention by nation A in nation B’s civil war enlarged the welfare of nation A?

—Before we intervene in Libya, do we ask the UN for permission? If it is refused, do we proceed anyway? If so, why ask? If we are refused permission and recede from intervention, have we not made U.S. foreign policy hostage to a hostile institution?

—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fears Libya becoming a failed state—”a giant Somalia.” Speaking of which, have we not seen a cautionary movie—Black Hawk Down—about how humanitarian military interventions can take nasty turns?

—The Egyptian crowds watched and learned from the Tunisian crowds. But the Libyan government watched and learned from the fate of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments. It has decided to fight. Would not U.S. intervention in Libya encourage other restive peoples to expect U.S. military assistance?

—Would it be wise for U.S. military force to be engaged simultaneously in three Muslim nations?


Paul Wolfowitz

National Post, March 16, 2011


One has to be morally blind not to be moved by the spectacle of brave Libyans standing up to Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks and bombs and mercenaries. But moral outrage is an inadequate guide for U.S. action, particularly action that might put the lives of Americans at risk. Serious questions need to be asked and answered. Proponents of inaction need to ask and answer some questions as well, since doing nothing is a choice.

There are three important U.S. actions that could speed up Gaddafi’s demise and stop the killing in Libya: recognize the newly formed national council in Benghazi as the government of Libya, provide assistance to the new Libyan authorities, and support the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Unfortunately, the debate focuses too quickly on the last of these actions, even though the first two entail fewer problems and might well have greater immediate impact. A no-fly zone is a tactic, not a strategy, and its impact depends on the larger policy context—particularly whether the U.S. continues to apply the U.N. arms embargo to Gaddafi’s opponents.

Recognizing the new National Council would affect the psychology of both Gaddafi’s cronies and his brave opponents. Ending the mixed signals sent by U.S. hesitation over recognition would end any possibility of rehabilitating Gaddafi if he wins. Absurd as that may sound to us—particularly after President Obama has declared that Gaddafi must go—this is probably the outcome that Gaddafi’s cronies hope for, and that his opponents most fear.

The more likely outcome if Gaddafi manages to survive—and honest proponents of inaction acknowledge this—would be a long-term isolation of Libya, with asset freezes, arms embargoes, and threatened prosecutions for war crimes. It would also be a crushing defeat for the United States in the eyes of the Arabs and the world. Preventing that may not rise to the level of a “vital” U.S. interest, but it is certainly important if we can do so without risking American lives.…

If we do recognize the new National Council—as France and Portugal have done—how do we respond to their requests for help? What would we supply and to whom? How would we deliver supplies? Could we control the eventual use of lethal assistance?

The answer to the first of these questions can only come after establishing direct contact with the new authorities, but the delivery of supplies should not be such a problem, either through the ports along the Libyan coast or across the Egyptian border.… In any case, forcing the Libyans to turn to other countries for arms would repeat the mistakes of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Bosnia in the 1990s.

It is only in the context of a larger assistance strategy that a no-fly zone should be considered. It would be different from the prolonged and largely futile zones imposed over southern Iraq from 1991-2003 or over Bosnia from 1992-1995. Intended to stop the genocides of the Marsh Arabs in Iraq and of the Muslim population of Bosnia, they did neither. Critics accurately point out that the massacre of 11,000 Muslims in Srebrenica took place under a NATO-imposed no-fly zone. But the situation in Libya would be very different if the Libyan people are properly armed.…

If there is a no-fly zone, some of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf that have called for one should be asked to join. We should try to minimize the use of force—by encouraging Libyan pilots to defect or not to fly at all—but it should be made clear from the outset that the goal is to neutralize Gaddafi’s air force, if necessary by destroying it.…

Some advocates of inaction are afraid that anything the U.S. might do could slip down a disastrous slippery slope toward American participation in an international occupation of Libya. Understandably, no American wants Libya to become a repetition of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. But neither does anyone in the Arab world appear to want it, least of all the Libyan people.…

It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves—precisely so that we are not faced with the terrible choice of seeing them crushed or intervening directly to liberate them.


Richard N. Haass

National Post, March 16, 2011


A good many people across the political spectrum—including some members of the Obama administration—are pressuring the U.S. president to intervene militarily in Libya. Much of the commentary has focused on establishing a no-fly zone, but there have been calls as well for enforcing a no-drive zone, or for arming or otherwise assisting regime opponents.

Those making this case appeal to a mixture of morality and realpolitik. They argue that by intervening we will prevent the slaughter of innocents and at the same time demonstrate our willingness to make good on expressions of support for freedom and security.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taken the opposite position. Testifying before Congress this month, Mr. Gates pointed out that the first step in establishing a no-fly zone that would ground Libyan aircraft and helicopters would be to suppress Libyan air defences that could threaten U.S. or allied aircraft. This would entail attacking selected targets. In other words, to establish a no-fly zone would be to go to war.…

[And] to impose a no-drive zone—which would aim to limit the government’s ability to use tanks and armored personnel carriers—would require far more extensive military force than a no-fly zone. And even if it were implemented, no number of Western aircraft on patrol could stop the movement of every military vehicle. The only way to level the battlefield would be to put trainers, advisors and special forces on the ground.

There are political reasons to question the wisdom of the United States becoming a protagonist in Libya’s civil war. It is one thing to acknowledge Muammar Gaddafi as a ruthless despot, which he has demonstrated himself to be. But doing so does not establish the democratic bona fides of those who oppose him. And even if some of those opposing him are genuine democrats, there is no reason to assume that helping to remove the regime would result in the ascendancy of such people.

To the contrary. Removing Gaddafi and those around him could easily set in motion a chain of events in which a different strongman, with the backing of a different tribe, took over. Or it could create a situation in which radical Islamists gain the upper hand. Either way, significant areas of the country would be beyond any government control, creating vacuums exploitable by al-Qaeda and similar groups.…

Intervening militarily in Libya would be a potentially costly distraction for the U.S. military. It is already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing it needs is another vaguely defined intervention in a place where U.S. interests are less than vital.

To say that U.S. interests in Libya are less than vital is not to argue for doing nothing, but rather for making sure that the actions we take are commensurate with the stakes. In the case of Libya, asset freezes, arms embargoes, threatened prosecutions for war crimes and the creation of humanitarian safe harbours inside the country or just across its borders would be appropriate.… Such an approach will not be enough for some. But it does have the advantage of being consistent with the scale of U.S. interests in Libya and what can realistically be done to promote them.


John Podhoretz
NY Post, March 16, 2011


Where is the president? The world is beset. Moammar Khadafy is moving relentlessly to crush the Libyan revolt that once promised the overthrow of one of the world’s most despicable regimes.

So where is the president?

Japan may be on the verge of a disaster that dwarfs any we have yet seen. A self-governing nation like the United States needs its leader to take full measure of his position at times of crises when the path forward is no longer clear.

This is not a time for leadership; this is the time for leadership.

So where is Barack Obama?

The moment demands that he rise to the challenge of showing America and the world that he is taking the reins. How leaders act in times of unanticipated crisis, in which they do not have a formulated game plan and must instead navigate in treacherous waters, defines them.

Obama is defining himself in a way that will destroy him.

It is not merely that he isn’t rising to the challenge. He is avoiding the challenge. He is Bartleby the President. He would prefer not to.

He has access to a microphone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he tells the broadcast networks in the middle of the day that he has a major address to deliver on an unprecedented world situation, they will cancel their programming for him.

And yet, since Friday and a press conference in which he managed to leave the American position on Libya more muddled than it was before, we have not heard his voice. Except in a radio address—he talked about education legislation.

And he appeared at a fund-raiser in DC. And sat down with ESPN to reveal his NCAA picks.

He cannot go on like this. Niall Ferguson, the very pessimis tic economic his torian, wrote the other day that the best we can now hope for is that Obama leaves the country in the same kind of shape that Jimmy Carter left it in.

That doesn’t do Obama justice. Despite how disastrously he has handled the crises of the past two months, he can still turn his presidency around on a dime.

For Obama to save himself, he should be thinking about the example of an unlikely Republican predecessor: Richard Nixon.

The multifarious crises the president now faces are eerily similar to the kinds of calamities that greeted Richard Nixon in his first term from 1969-1972. Then, as now, the world was on fire. Wars erupted between China and the Soviet Union, India and Pakistan, even El Salvador and Honduras.

Jordan was nearly taken over from within by the Palestine Liberation Organization. There were humanitarian disasters in Biafra (the result of civil war), Bangladesh (due to flooding) and Nicaragua (deadly earthquake).…

Nixon in 1968, unlike Obama 2008, was elected as a minority president with only 43 percent of the vote. Yet, in 1972, he won what, in some measures, was the most lopsided election in American history with 61 percent.…

Nixon was an awful president in many ways, including in some of his foreign-policy choices. But he left no doubt that foreign policy and America’s leadership in the world outside its borders was of paramount importance to him.

All this had the effect of elevating Nixon during his time in office, so that when it came to running against George McGovern in 1972, Nixon seemed like a Titan and McGovern a pipsqueak.

How Nixon conducted himself in office in times of crises made possible his triumphant re-election. Right now, how Obama is conducting himself in a time of crisis is having the opposite effect.

He began his presidency as a potential colossus—but if he doesn’t change, he will finish it as a pipsqueak. Pipsqueaks don’t win second terms.


Lewis MacKenzie

Globe & Mail, March 9, 2011


It’s déjà vu all over again for the no-fly zone debate.

The United Nations, NATO, the African Union, the European Union and the Arab League are all contemplating a no-fly zone over Libya in a bid to eliminate Moammar Gadhafi’s ability to use his air resources against opposition forces. There’s much discussion about the wisdom of such a move, the main argument against it being it would be essential to first destroy Libya’s airfields, anti-aircraft missile/gun locations, radar and command-and-control centres.

But that argument is merely a stalling tactic for political leaders, because having to take such action before patrolling Libyan airspace would be equivalent to telling a Canadian infantry company in Afghanistan that it wouldn’t be ordered to attack a hill until it was confirmed that the Taliban defenders had been killed by artillery fire. Considering the state of Colonel Gadhafi’s air force and air-defence system, the imposition of a no-fly zone would be a low-risk undertaking.

The proverbial elephant in the room is a much more serious hurdle: mission creep. Too many references are made to the successful 12-year no-fly zone maintained over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, suggesting the same result could be achieved over Libya. But that zone was established after the war had been won by the U.S.-led coalition and was limited to keeping Iraqi aircraft out of the sky. (Unfortunately, due to an oversight, restrictions on Iraqi helicopters weren’t included.)

A much better comparison could be made with the inaccurately labelled no-fly zone imposed by NATO over Serbia during Kosovo’s attempt to break away in 1999 [which]…quickly escalated to an all-out bombing campaign—initially against military and security targets, then adding strategic targets such as oil refineries and major bridges.…

Odds are, the same scenario would unfold in Libya if a no-fly zone were enforced. Unfortunately, Col. Gadhafi doesn’t need his air force to prevail, so its grounding or destruction would merely shift the fighting to the backs of his army. Libya is a big country, with 2,000 kilometres of coastline, so the major fighting would take place along the main coastal road. The opposition forces would be no match for even poorly organized army units if Col. Gadhafi decides to get serious.

Watching this unfold from 20,000 feet, the countries enforcing any no-fly zone would be…forced to escalate and authorize attacks against the Libyan army—thereby becoming, in effect, the opposition’s air force.…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Col. Gadhafi. But I’m also no fan of political decisions driven by well-meaning military undertakings with the naive belief they will be short term and successful. As the saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

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